Optimizing Fifth Year

Introducing FifthYear.ie, nudging Irish students to think objectively about their Leaving Cert subject choices.

The beginning of fifth year, the penultimate year in the Irish secondary school system, evokes a variety of memories for me. I had just changed schools, having never really fit in at my first secondary school, and was navigating the challenges that presents to a sixteen year old. Like all fifth year students, I was also beginning two years of preparation for the daunting Leaving Cert––the end of sixth year exams that determine where you go to college. Looking back I now believe fifth year is the most important academic year in the life of an Irish student, it’s the year when Leaving Cert subjects are chosen.

While students are ultimately evaluated on exams taken at the end of sixth year, their performance is hugely impacted by their choice of subjects, a decision I didn’t give enough thought. While my own Leaving Cert performance worked out, I ended up studying Computer Science at UCD, I wanted to create FifthYear.ie and share some thoughts that may help current and future fifth year students optimize their subject choices.

I’ve always been pretty good at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) related subjects but was never very talented at languages. Somehow I ended up taking both higher level Irish and French at the beginning of fifth year. I spent an inordinate amount of time treading water in those subjects, ultimately deciding to take Ordinary Level in Irish and scraping to a C in Higher Level French. I now feel that the time spent on those subjects would have been better allocated to additional Higher Level STEM subjects, such as Physics or Applied Maths. I personally started to enjoy Irish class when I moved to Ordinary Level and realized I wouldn’t be relying on it for points.

Leaving Cert subject choice is a personal decision and one that should be discussed with a teacher, but I would encourage current and future fifth year students to not allow school timetable restrictions or peer pressure dictate their choices. The abundance of online learning resources, such as Khan Academy, opens the door to more a personalized selection of subjects, since additional help will only be a click away.

To help start the thought process I created the open source FifthYear.ie, feel free to try it out and leave any feedback in the comments or on GitHub.

Go n-éirí leat!

FifthYear.ie — nudging students to think differently about Leaving Cert subject choices.